NORTH MANKATO — Entering Tuesday, St. Charles hadn’t appeared in the state softball tournament, much less won a game. But after starting fast and finishing strong, the Saints are going one step further.
St. Charles advanced to the Class AA championship with an 8-2 victory over Pipestone at Caswell Park. The Saints will face top-seeded LeSueur-Henderson for the title Wednesday afternoon.
“It was pretty obvious that we came in with high energy right away, and the game showed,” coach Adam Gust said.
Unlike the quarterfinal, in which St. Charles struggled to string together consistent offense, the Saints (24-4) jumped on the Arrows (26-4) in the first.
With two in scoring position and no outs, Lauryn Delger knocked a hard grounder to short that got under Kyla Hubbling’s glove and brought a run in. Makadyn Gust then scored on a wild pitch. And Delger came around on Mya Omdahl’s booming double in the right-center gap.
Those three runs in one frame were more than the two St. Charles scored in nine innings against Mounds Park Academy. And the offense only kept rolling from there.
Jade Krenik launched a solo home run well past the fence to lead off the third. Emmy Kauten did the same to start the fourth. That blast chased Pipestone right-hander Jessa Reinert, who gave up five runs (two earned) and five hits in three-plus innings while striking out just one.
“We just need to be the visiting team so we can come out and get our bats going right away,” Adam Gust said. “The three outfielders, the bash sisters out there.”
All that scoring was more than enough to back Brenna Koeppel. Coming off a bend-but-don’t-break performance in the afternoon game, the right-hander returned to her ace form in the early innings against the Arrows.
She allowed a run on a first-inning wild pitch but then settled in, retiring eight in a row after that blip. But four straight Pipestone runners reached base to begin the bottom of the fourth, cutting the lead to 5-2.
Koeppel came back, though, aided by her defense. The Saints cut down Kayla Hubbling after she overran third base, and a dart from Makadyn Gust in center field put Nicole Pals in a rundown between third and home, where she was tagged for the final out of the frame.
And after that, Koeppel dominated. She allowed just two more hits the rest of the way.
Makadyn Gust padded St. Charles’ lead with a two-run homer in the sixth, pushing the edge to five. Eva Anderson added one more with a sacrifice fly. And Koeppel sealed the championship trip by getting MacKenzie Manderscheid to ground out, the dream still alive.
“Just go out and have fun,” Adam Gust said of his team’s approach to the title game. “We play our best when kids have fun.”